By Samantha Klein
Darkness fell, rain was pouring, and student activism was at its height on the first night of the recent Week of Conscience for Darfur at the University of Virginia. After months of planning, a coalition of four diverse and prominent student organizations, led by the Hillel Jewish Student Union, managed to garner support from hundreds of students and faculty at the University of Virginia to say in unison "never again" – and mean it.
Despite the inclement weather in conjunction with midterm week, students turned out in droves to attend the first of two sets of professor lectures on the current genocide in Western Sudan. That evening, three professors spoke to the history of genocide in the last century. Although the speakers addressed what is oftentimes portrayed as mass murder of civilians in a distant time and place, the lecturers made the topic of discussion applicable to the present. After an in-depth Q&A session, everyone was encouraged to purchase "Not on My Watch: Save Darfur" wristbands to further stimulate dialogue, write to their representatives on pre-paid postcards and sign a petition urging the U.S. government to intervene in Darfur.
On Wednesday evening we held our second lecture series, given by a professor who spoke about U.S. politics in relation to genocide, and a university graduate who discussed his inspiring personal experiences while working for a humanitarian aid organization in Sudan. Later in the week, professionals with experience in the politics of genocide led a roundtable discussion, and a local restaurant was the site of a successful benefit concert. On Friday, the Day of Conscience, we sent the petition to Congress.
Since the Week of Conscience, the face of the Virginia student body has donned a new hue. No, it's not from barbecue night at the dining hall, or even the visible sea of green "Save Darfur" wristbands, but rather from the newfound awareness and genuine concern for ending genocide in our time. In a society in which we pour billions of dollars into relieving the effects of natural disaster, how can we turn a blind eye to preventable tragedy? We will not stand for it.
Because we don't want a "Hotel Sudan," because we refuse to stand idly by, and because we promised our grandparents, we will not let the genocide in Darfur exist in mockery of how we as Jews and Americans continually utter the phrase "never again."
Samantha Klein is a third-year student at the University of Virginia.